Children who grow up internationally have the unique opportunity to immerse into other cultures, learn several languages, and experience diversity. To help you with your parenting journey in an international environment here are the 4 tips for raising international children.
International children and their parents
International children face more changes during their developmental years (0-18) than an average adult experiences change in a lifetime. There are times when many cultures and languages are involved with these changes. Sometimes changes happen due to unforeseen circumstances. We always want to ensure for our children, partner, and ourselves that our basic needs are met.
A family is like a team where everyone has a say and is involved in decision making process. This is more essential for making hard decisions and it helps to strengthen the family bond.
The well being of our children depends on how parents experience our life abroad. Here are the 4 tips that will help children to become confident internationals and feel good with themselves.
1) Decide what to transmit from your own culture(s)
Raising international children means that we are not in our home country. Therefore, we have the great opportunity to decide on what to transmit from our respective cultures to our kids.
The culture consists of the language we speak with our children, our habits, beliefs, routines, and what we celebrate. In every domain of life we have choices to make. We can maintain what we know and cherish or invite and include new aspects that we appreciate from other cultures.
Parents which are from different cultural backgrounds have to decide what they consider important from different cultures of origin. They might find ways to combine traditions, habits and beliefs. Parents can create their very own and unique family culture. This is a unique opportunity for raising international children.
2) Embracing the third culture
Children who grow up among worlds or internationally, usually do not miss belonging to one culture only. International children naturally switch between the cultural behaviors and languages at home, in a social community, or at school. This is their normal.
International children have the opportunity of experiencing other cultures and languages in their everyday life. They start combining these cultures in their very personal way and automatically become very flexible in adapting to different situations. This way international kids develop a greater understanding and embrace diversity in a natural way.
International children can combine what they prefer from their home cultures – the ones transmitted by their parents – with the one of the greater community they grow up in. They can as well combine with the aspects of the places they live and are familiar with through travels and extended family.
Children growing up abroad usually find their own culture in the intersection of the home culture(s) and the community culture(s). Which is known as the third culture.
The concept of third culture kids coined by Ruth Useem in the ’50s. It applies to children who “spend a significant part of [their] first eighteen years of life accompanying parents into a country [or countries] that is different from at least one parent’s passport country(ies) due to parent’s choice of work or advanced training” (Third Culture Kids: Growing up among Worlds, by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. van Reken, and Michael V. Pollock, 2017).
It is important to know that children who experience a very mobile childhood, find their sense of identity and belonging in their relationship to others with a similar background. They develop a strong identity with the system they grow up in (a school, a community) rather than with a geographical place.
3) Finding your (unique) identity of “not only… but also… “
Growing up in different cultures does not make our children feel rootless and unsure of their cultural identity. Our children start doubting who they are and why others perceive them as different at times when they are asked to choose one culture over another, or to prefer one language to another.
The whole process of finding and defining oneself is a very natural one that everyone experiences. This happens usually around teenage years.
We can help our children through this process by addressing these questions and supporting them in their decisions. We usually want to fulfill our expectations of what defines a true German, Russian, Polish etc. Instead of trying to fit our children in a specific cultural box, we should chose to encourage them to find and define their own uniqueness.
Sometimes children feel “not enough” by a limiting definition of their self that is often expressed by “I’m neither … nor…”. In these cases, we can support them to be “not only… but also…”. Anneke Verplancke displays a brilliant example of this concept in her dance performance . She combines ballet and hip-hop in a very unique way.
4) Redefining normal
Comparing children of international background with the children that do not have the same experience is comparing monolinguals with bi/multilingual. This is like comparing apples with bananas.
The more we raise our kids as normal and focus on the advantages, the more our children will feel accepted, valued and recognized. It is important to create this understanding and safe haven in their micro society, in the family and their home . With that in mind we can provide the strength and self-confidence that will also help our children grow up as resilient individuals.
Biography : Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold is a multilingual Family Language Consultant and Intercultural Communication Trainer at Ute’s International Lounge. She has lived abroad her whole life and is raising her three children the same way. By embracing all the languages and cultures they encounter. In her workshops and training, she shares insights into the latest scientific findings, her own experience and the one with her clients. She supports international families to make the best out of their international experience.
For more information, visit her site www.UtesInternationalLounge.com or contact her at info@UtesInternationalLounge.com.
Want to read more about raising international children written by other Delft Mamas?
- Ildikó shares her experience with bilingual parenting with the help of her parents as language models.
- Olga shares her experience with raising multilingual kids.
- Kathryn Roscoe shares her experiences with raising a multilingual child.
- Ute also shares tips for multilingual kids in her previous post.
Have your own stories to share? Contact us!